Archive for the ‘Thailand News’ Category

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If You Want a Prime Minister We’ve Got One To Spare

A certain blindness to the law appears to run through the Shinawatra clan, and that’s despite the family’s recently-acquired role as the country’s feudal overloads.

It was most unfortunate that former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra fled the country just hours before being found guilty of corruption. But not to worry. One of his sisters – Yingluck was shortly to be granted the role of premier – albeit blatantly as Thaksin’s puppet.

And now it seems entirely possible that the little sister will be tried for and convicted of crimes of corruption and so will lose her positions as MP and PM. So what’s a family to do? Line up another sister – that’s what.

In Chiang Mai – home territory for Thaksin and his clan – a current senior MP has mysteriously resigned without warning or explanation. It’s widely anticipated that Yaowapa Shinawatra will stand for election to his constituency and (undoubtedly) be elected, making her eligible to be the next PM should Yingluck fail and fall. (In Thailand only a standing MP can become Prime Minister.)

It’s perfectly possible that the square-faced one would be very happy with the substitution. Yingluck has so far totally failed to pass legislation that would grant him a “get out of jail free” card. Yaowapa, however, has a reputation as a bit of a political bruiser (even though she’s never stood for political office) and may well be able to secure that card for the country’s most notorious fugitive from justice.

So, if any country is looking for a new Prime Minister – one politically naïve and poor at debate but with a pretty face and a penchant for Burberry boots – then possibly a soon-to-be former Prime Minister will be available for the job.

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Thailand’s Mount Fuji

Thailand’s hopelessly misguided rice pledging scheme has lead to a stockpile of more than 12 million tonnes of ludicrously overpriced rice, much of it of poor quality and decaying, which nobody wants to buy. The nation’s rice warehouses are full to overflowing, yet still the government pledges to take every single, last grain of rice produced by the nation’s farmers. This led to a rather dark joke about the situation.

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe visits Thailand. He sees a vast mountain of rice and exclaims:

“Wow! You have a Mount Fuji in Thailand. And snow, too!”

To which Prime Minister Yingluck replies:

“It’s not Mount Fuji, it’s Mount Rice-Pledging Scheme. And it’s not snow on the top. It’s just the rice that hasn’t gone rotten yet.”

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I Got 91 Problems

The government announced some months ago that it would be phasing out 91 octane petrol in favour of gasohol, and finally that has come to pass. The petrol pumps are running dry, and soon only gasohol will be available.

The government didn’t consider the growing body of evidence that using gasohol damages car engines, leading to high motor repair costs in the longer term. Instead they dreamt up some sort of rationalisation for getting rid of petrol – something to do with balance of trade or the environment, or something. The cynic in me, however, makes me wonder which person (or persons) of influence is now making vast profits producing bioethanol which is now being thrust down the throats (so to speak) of unwilling consumers.

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Banana (Traffic) Jam

Bangkok is notorious for its terrible traffic congestion; the shortest of journeys can take a time that seems interminable. Being stuck in traffic not moving for an hour or more is hardly an infrequent occurrence. The causes of this vehicular constipation are manifold.

One cause is the mix of vehicles on the road. Cars fight to progress with food carts, either hand-pushed or powered by motorcycle; motorcycles make their way to the front of the queue at every traffic light, then pull away slowly – as fast as their underpowered engines can manage; buses aggressively (and seemingly pointlessly) change lane, blocking the progress of cars behind them; slow moving, smoke-belching trucks hog the “fast” lane – or indeed, any other lane, as the whim takes them.

Then there are the consequences of Thai scofflawishness. Motorcycles, and on occasion, cars, drive on the wrong side of the road, forcing cars to pull out from the left hand lane. Cars double- and even triple-parked are omnipresent. Parking where legally forbidden happens, with particularly notable consequences (but not for the transgressor) at road junction and at bus stops where the bus will be forced to stop in the middle lane to pick up and drop off passengers.

Then there’s infrastructure. One of the peculiarities of the road in Thailand is the prevalence of U-turns. The universality of a central reservation means that to turn right at what in other countries would be a crossroads one has to turn left, then do a U-turn at the next break in the central reservation, which may be a couple of kilometres away. When traffic is flowing well, once faces pulling out into the fast lane or the opposite carriageway; and when it’s not, one is stuck waiting for a kindhearted motorist to let one in, whilst the traffic backs up behind one.

Bangkok StonehengeAnother infrastructure issue is the lack of investment thereinto. At least, the money is stumped up, but so much of it “evaporates” that major transport projects seem rarely to be completed, and Bangkok is strewn with the remnants of failed expressways. Some people refer to them as “Bangkok’s Stonehenge”.

The situation hasn’t been helped by the current government’s shameless electoral bribe policy to alleviate poverty by offering up to 100,000 Baht ($3,250) off the cost of a new car for first time buyers which has put a thousand more cars on the road every day for the last six months.

Now the experts in Bangkok have identified another significant factor in Bangkok’s crazy traffic: bananas. To be honest, I’m not surprised. Those evil yellow fruit not only were (as some believe) the fruit that Adam and Eve munched on causing mankind’s downfall, but also have an obscenely phallic shape unfit for polite society.

Actually, to be more specific, The Powers That Be in one district of Bangkok have decided to outlaw buying fried bananas from roadside vendors in a bid to ease traffic gridlock. After all, every car driver knows that the sight and smell of a frying banana is enough to render one’s right foot totally incapable of pressing on the accelerator. Frankly, I’m surprised that it’s taken the city experts so long to fathom this out.

With back-to-front logic the “experts” have determined that people’s stopping their cars to buy fried bananas is causing traffic standstill, not realising that if the traffic were flowing freely, people wouldn’t stop to buy bananas. In ye olden days the street vendors walked between the stationary cars proffering their wares, but that was banned on safety grounds, so they took to selling from roadside stalls; the traffic jams were there long before the roadside vendors.

Anyway, now the good citizens of Bangkok face the prospect of a 500 Baht fine if they buy a fried banana whilst stuck in traffic.

The whole affair to me is simply… bananas.

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Disengage Brain Before Speaking

Earlier this year a 19 year old Dutch tourist was brutally raped by a Thai tour guide in the popular seaside resort of Ao Nang, Krabi. Her attacker was arrested and then promptly freed on bail. Letting a violent rapist who had already fled once to avoid arrest out on bail may seem a little odd, but then, Thailand is a foreign country: they do things differently there. In fact, even convicted murderers can be let out on bail here before serving their sentences.

Recently five policemen were found guilty of murdering a teenage boy, with three of them being sentenced to death, one to life imprisonment, and one to seven years inside. His body had been dragged along the ground by handcuffs, causing deep cuts to his wrists. His body was covered with cuts and bruises. And – perhaps most shockingly – his testicles had been crushed. Finally he was strangled and hanged. And the court, in a decision that defies belief, granted them bail pending an appeal.

What makes the bail decision even more shocking is that there are more than twenty other murders linked to these policemen, and that they have a track record of extreme witness intimidation. And just to top things off, witness protection was withdrawn from the three key witnesses just because the trial was over and the policemen had been found guilty.

The father of the Dutch rape victim was aggrieved by the decision to grant bail to the rapist and made a music video which he uploaded to Youtube. It goes by the name Evil Man from Krabi (link below).

This video has, as they say, “gone viral”, and as a consequence there have been a lot of cancellations of tourist bookings in the Krabi area. This has brought reaction from the Tourism and Sports Ministry.

The Tourism Minister Chumphol Silpa-archa (younger brother of former Prime Minister Banharn Silpa-archa – nice how politics is a family-run business in Thailand) said that the incident could not be considered rape because the victim had had dinner with her attacker previously. Funny that. I hadn’t realised that brutally beating your partner so that she is in fear for her very life was a normal part of foreplay in Thailand. As I say, they do things differently here.

A Permanent Secretary’s response to the video was to consult with the Information and Communications Technology Minister about blocking the music video from being viewed from within Thailand.

It seems that a key requirement for being a government official here is the ability to disengage the brain before speaking.

Whilst the government is blaming the fall in foreign tourist numbers to Krabi upon the rape and video, another incident might also have a bearing. Last month a British couple were reportedly attacked by a group of youths on motorcycles, also in Ao Nang, in what appears to have been a sexually-motivated assault. The man was later treated for stab wounds to his face, arms, chest and legs. One local businessman subsequently posted on a webboard:

“In Ao Nang, I fear that another tourist death is imminent. Gangs of teenage kids armed with knives and machetes roam the roads like something out of a Hollywood horror movie.”

Similar incidents, both in Krabi and at other top tourist destinations, are far from uncommon, so rather than trying to deny the rape and block the video, shouldn’t the Ministry be doing something to make Thailand’s top resorts safer for their visiting guests?

Links

Human Rights Watch report on murder of teenage boy: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/08/24/thailand-ending-kalasins-police-reign-terror

Report on rape of Dutch girl: http://www.andrew-drummond.com/2012/09/model-raped-on-her-19th-birthday-we.html

“Evil Man From Krabi” music video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRErWjo809g

Pack sex attack report: http://www.andrew-drummond.com/2012/10/briton-stabbed-defending-girlfriend-in.html

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3G or not 3G, That is the Question

After years of delay, Thailand this week concluded its auction to run a 3G mobile ‘phone network here. Not surprisingly, the auction has given every impression that the three companies bidding colluded, resulting the the government receiving 16.3 billion Baht less than the price recommended by a panel of experts from Chulalongkorn engaged by the government. Still, what’s $532 million between friends?

Of course some people will grumble that Thailand has been very slow to adopt the technology. After all, our poorer and more backward neighbours Burma and Laos have both had 3G ‘phone networks for many years now. But that just proves our neighbours’ system of corruption is much more efficient than ours.

Personally, I’m rather glad that Thailand is tardy in rolling out new technology because when, on August 29th at 2:14 a.m. Eastern Time, Lao’s 10G mobile ‘phones become self-aware and start an all-out apocolyptic war again humanity, here in Thailand we’ll still happily be contemplating the possible rollout of 4G technology.

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Constabulary Investigations

According to today’s newspapers a large hole has opened up under the Rangsit-Pathum Thani Road just to the north of Bangkok.

Policeman looking into hole in road

Police are looking into it.

(Photo from the Bangkok Post, 4th October 2012.)

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Oh, For the Love of Dog!

Whisky doesn’t like thunderstorms. When thunder is in the air he’ll cower under my desk or the dining table, and he’ll be off his food. Unfortunately, at the moment there are thunderstorms almost every night. I’ll be woken in the small hours of the morning by the sound of his padding outside my bedroom door. I’ll let him in, and he’ll lie down on the floor close to me until the storm has passed. Then he’ll start padding around the bedroom wanting to go back downstairs. Oh, for an unbroken night’s sleep!

The heavy rain hasn’t been good for Thailand or Bangkok. Currently 11 of the country’s 76 provinces are experiencing flooding. 179,074 people in 1,763 villages are affected. At the weekend an industrial estate in Bangkok flooded when its defences broke. Sukhothai, Thailand’s historical capital before Ayutthaya and home to stunning temple ruins, has so far been flooded twice this year. 130 billion Baht notionally spent on flood defences since last years’ floods (that’s £2.4 billion or $3.9 billion) yet nothing seems to have changed (apart from the bank balances of certain influential people which have become as swollen as Thailand’s rivers and canals).

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Here Comes the Rain Again

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra promised there’d be no severe flooding in Thailand this year. Well, the rains have barely started to fall, and already six areas in Ayutthaya province are flooded, and this is the centre of the city of Sukhothai yesterday.

Sukhothai flooded, September 2012
Image from Bangkok Post.

Plans to test the water drainage capacity in Bangkok were due to be held last week – water was to be released from dams upstream and passed through the city’s network of khlongs (canals). The test was called off because there was widespread flooding following a night of heavy rain.

This year was supposed to be different. Following last year’s devastating floods the government was supposed to have been focussed on flood prevention, and virtually unimaginable sums of taxpayer money have been forked out to that end.

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In a totally unrelated story, Police Colonel Dusadee Arayawuthi, is being transferred from the Public Accounts Anti-Corruption Commission, just as he was about to spill the beans on massive corruption in flood defence projects. The only reason given was that some unnamed phuyai (bigwig) wanted him transferred. He was also going to reveal large scale tax evasion in the grey market import of luxury foreign cars and widespread encroachment on national parks in two provinces by “influential figures and local politicians”. (The encroachers even had the gall to use illegal loans from a state bank to fund their acquisition of the parkland and then defaulted on the loans.)

In fact, he ordered his staff to investigate 595 flood prevention projects in the north east; checks revealed “irregularities” in every single project looked into.

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In another unrelated story, a recent study by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce has revealed that “tea money” accounts for the disappearance of 30-35% of all government land, building and equipment expenditure. Some reports, however, put the figure much higher.

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Yet another unrelated story, a survey earlier this month by Assumption University revealed that 66% of Thai people think that corruption is acceptable. (With people under 20 that figure is 78%, which bodes well for the future.) Even just under 60% of civil servants thought corruption acceptable if it helped them with job promotion, transfer to a better job location or personal profit.

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And a final unrelated story: of the flood defences for the seven industrial estates in Ayutthaya and Pathum Thani provinces which were severely flooded last year, not a single set of defences has yet been completed.

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